Budget Meal Planning - 11 Easy Tips and Tricks (That Actually Works)
Budget Meal Planning Hacks That You Should Know to Save Money and Eat Healthy on a Budget
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Have you ever paid attention to how much you spend on food every month?
For most families, eating out and groceries make up a significant chunk of the household budget.
However, with careful meal planning, you can easily stay within your budget and save precious time as well.
What is budget meal planning?
Meal planning is the process of choosing different meals to prepare and eat in the coming days.
With budget meal planning, you are making a conscious effort to save money on groceries, waste less food, and eat healthy meals.
All you need to do is sit down once a month and think about what meals you want to eat throughout the month.
Once you have made the list of your meals, simply spread them over the month so that there are no frequent repeats.
What are the advantages of meal planning on a budget?
Food is the biggest expense in each household.
So, if you can learn how to manage your food expenses well, you can increase your savings considerably.
This is what meal planning helps you with i.e. planning your meals to control your grocery and eating out expenses.
Meal planning on a budget can help you save not just money, but also a lot of time and energy.
With a plan ready, you will be able to whip up a meal quickly and without any stress.
Once you are a pro in budget meal planning, you will just need to prep for an hour or two on a Sunday, to simplify your cooking routine for the whole week.
A meal planning budget will leave you with a much bigger bank balance and much more time to spend with your family.
How to prepare a meal plan on a budget?
1. Create a plan
No great project can start without a plan.
So, the first thing you must do is take a blank monthly calendar and chalk out a monthly meal plan.
Monthly meal planning will give you the basic structure on which you can build the meal plan budget.
Stick to easy and quick recipes that don’t use any fancy, expensive ingredients.
Don’t plan complicated meals. Plan a menu that is easy for you to cook and dishes that your family enjoys. You are less likely to buy unnecessary groceries when you have a fixed meal plan for the week.
Plan your meals so that you can meal prep during the weekend, and the weekly dinners don’t take too much time to make.
For example, if you can cook your chicken breast during the weekend, you can use it for different dishes during the week.
Always make provisions for leftovers in your meal plan. If it’s a family favorite, it will be welcome at the next meal as well.
Also try to include a few dirt-cheap meals like frozen pizzas, or spaghetti in your plan. Don’t overdo them, for you must aim for healthy meals overall.
2. Use your monthly plan to create a weekly plan
You may be wondering why this part is necessary when you have already made a meal plan for a month?
While monthly meal plans help you to identify the meals you and your family like and which can be cooked on budget, a weekly meal plan acts as a guide for your grocery shopping.
Grocery shopping and meal prepping also become easy when you have identified the meals you will eat over the week.
You can chop and freeze or cook certain elements like sauces and gravies for the week in advance.
3. Make a list before you go grocery shopping
You don’t need a big grocery budget to eat food that is both nutritious and tasty.
You can easily make delicious meals which your family will enjoy with affordable ingredients.
When you shop without a list in hand, you tend to grab unnecessary items, which lead to overspending.
Now that you have planned your menu for the week, make a list accordingly. Here are a few tips to help you stick to your budget when you go grocery shopping –
Go to the grocery store armed with a list and stick to it.
Don’t shop on an empty stomach. You tend to pick up unhealthy snacks if you shop when you’re hungry.
Shop earlier in the day. When you are energized, you will be more focused on what you are buying and make wiser food choices.
If possible, leave your children at home. You don’t want them to ‘help’ you while shopping.
Shop only once a week. You will end up spending much more on extras when you make multiple trips to the grocery store.
4. Check your freezer and pantry before meal planning
Many of us make the mistake of shopping for items which we may already have. This leads to unnecessary purchases, which we might end up discarding eventually.
Organize your refrigerator and food storage cupboards at least once a month. Make a note of all the items that you already have.
If you don’t know what you have, you may end up repurchasing the same thing.
Check the expiry dates of the food and the ingredients that you may already have in your home. Make a note of what ingredients you need to use up first and plan your meals accordingly.
5. Stick to your plan while shopping
Fix a meal plan budget in your mind before you enter the store and stick to it.
Buy what you need. The three for one option is good only if you can use all three.
Look out for discounts on things that you buy regularly.
Don’t overlook store brands. They are often as good as the other products.
Spend less on processed food.
Pick up more fresh produce.
Set aside a small part of your budget as fun money. Use only this for an exciting ingredient that you ‘must’ take home with you.
6. Plan your meals according to your family’s activity
Every budget meal plan needs to be flexible to be successful. You don’t have to stick to your weekly meal plan if your family members are away for some meals.
If your children aren’t around for a meal, plan their favorite meal some other day. You should be able to change meal planning ideas easily.
Make a note of your family’s activities on your planner and adjust accordingly.
7. Accommodate leftovers while meal planning
It’s natural for some food to be left over after a meal. Using these foods again makes environmental, social, and financial sense.
Think of how you can use these leftovers creatively when you plan your meals.
If you have some vegetable leftovers, you can use them in your pasta or soup later in the week.
Leftover roast chicken can be used in sandwiches. Cooked rice can also be frozen to be utilized later.
Bonus Tip: Don’t plan anything for one of the meals in the middle of the week and accommodate all the leftovers in that meal.
8. Your weekly meal plan should be in plain sight
Now that you have learned all the tricks for meal planning on a budget, you may be wondering – how do you stick to it?
One of the best ways to stick to your meal plan is to keep it in plain sight.
Take a print of your weekly meal plan and stick it on your refrigerator, where you can see it.
9. Join a cooking community
There are days when even the most motivated people feel like skipping the budget meal plan and eating out instead.
You can join an online community for healthy eating to keep yourself motivated. Members of these communities share tips, recipes, and also provide food-related moral support.
10. Eat seasonally
We have now become used to eating what we want whenever we want.
But fruits and vegetables that are out of season are less flavourful and more expensive than seasonal produce.
Include more seasonal vegetables and fruits in your diet for tastier meals, and you will be rewarded with a smaller grocery bill.
11. Keep a well-stocked pantry
There can be times when your family might not want to eat the meal that’s on the meal plan and want something different.
A well-stocked pantry helps in these cases where you can cook something different at home itself instead of eating outside.
Cooking at home will be cheaper than eating outside. So, this helps you in sticking with your budget meal plan.
How to save even more money on top of budget meal planning?
Apart from saving money using a budget meal plan, you can save even more money using the following ways:
Use the Ibotta app to earn cashback on your grocery shopping.
Before heading out to the store, select the cashback offers available on the items on your grocery list.
Then, can your receipt after getting back home to get the instant cashback savings.
If you run out of ideas on what to cook and bored of eating the same recipes over and over, you should try out a $5 Meal Plan subscription.
This service suggests new recipes and ideas for meals and also tells you what ingredients do you need to cook them. This makes your meal planning and grocery shopping easier and helps you save money on groceries.
It just costs you just $5 a month and comes with a 14-day free trial.
Sign up with Rakuten and get a $40 gift card
Another way to earn cashback on your grocery shopping is Rakuten. It also gives you a $40 gift card for just signing up.
It works only with online shopping. So, you can shop online and pick up at the store to enjoy additional cashback with Rakuten on your grocery shopping.
Best budget meals to include in your weekly meal plan
Best budget-friendly breakfast options
Breakfast is known as the most important meal of the day.
Unfortunately, it is also the meal we often spend the least amount of time on. Here are some cheap, easy, and healthy breakfast options.
2. Hard-boiled eggs and toast
3. Toasted bagel with peanut butter and jelly
4. Toasted waffle with fresh strawberries (or any other seasonal fruit)
5. Rice pudding
6. Scrambled eggs with a touch of green onion and garlic
7. Yogurt parfait (with granola, muesli, honey, and dried fruit)
8. Peanut butter and banana toast
9. Egg and avocado on toast
10. Apple walnut oatmeal
Best budget-friendly lunch options
Making a healthy lunch can be a bit time-consuming, but it is worth the effort. These healthy lunch ideas will help you get your working meal on a budget and will also save you money on hospital bills in the long run.
1. Chicken avocado wraps
2. Cool beans salad
3. Chicken and spinach pasta salad
4. Hummus and veggie wrap
5. Chopped Greek salad
6. Barbecue chicken pot pie
7. Quinoa salad
8. Turkey wraps
9. Cilantro tuna salad sandwich
10. Grilled hummus turkey sandwich
Best budget-friendly dinner options
Dinner is one meal that the whole family can sit together and eat. Impress your entire family with these easy and inexpensive dining options.
1. Chicken fried rice
2. Chilli cheese dog casserole
3. Tex-Mex Beef and rice skillet
4. Vegetable ramen pad Thai
5. Chicken fajitas
6. French bread pizza
7. Microwave mac and cheese
8. Teriyaki chicken quesadillas
9. Ground beef shepherd’s pie
10. Spaghetti with a healthy green salad and garlic bread
Making a healthy and nutritious meal plan on a budget does not have to be too hard.
All you need to do is to make a monthly meal plan, shop accordingly, and use leftovers wisely.
Don’t give up mid-way; there are plenty of online communities that can help you stay motivated.
The money that you save over time and the improved health of your family will be your biggest rewards.